The smartest things CEOs have told employees in the last year

Hospital and health system leaders have had to navigate various industry challenges in the last year, from financial pressures to workforce shortages. But they have also focused on making meaningful change for the future, and they are engaging employees in their efforts.

Becker's asked leaders to answer the question, "What is the smartest thing you've said to employees in the last year that led to meaningful change?" 

Candi Constantine-Castillo, DNP. CEO of Harlingen (Texas) Medical Center: One of the most impactful things I've said to employees in the last year is that we don't say "no," we say "how." We see every challenge as an opportunity to find a solution that works for everyone involved. Instead of focusing on the limitations and what we can't do, we shift our focus to what we can do and how we can make it happen. This mindset has led to a culture of innovation and problem-solving, where our employees feel empowered to find creative solutions to even the most complex problems. By embracing the NO as the Next Opportunity, we have been able to achieve meaningful change and drive positive results for our patients and our health system.

Cheryl Cioffi, DNP. Senior Vice President and COO of Frederick (Md.) Health: With regards to helping our leadership team and team members navigate through the financial challenges in healthcare over the past year, Tom Kleinhanzl, our president and CEO, has always said: "As we make decisions, let's just remain focused on quality and doing what's right for our patients. The financials will sort themselves out, as they always do." This is what our team needed to hear.

Leslie Davis. President and CEO of UPMC (Pittsburgh). Be inclusive. Don't underestimate anyone because of their job title, size of their cubicle, gender, color, or race or age. Build teams where not everyone is the same. These teams will be bright and rich.

Steve Gordon, MD. CEO and President of St. Charles Health System (Bend, Ore.): It's not so much what we say, but how we say it that matters most. As the only hospital system serving a huge rural swath of Oregon, we touch countless lives every day. More often than not those lives belong to our friends, our neighbors and our own families. In every presentation we start with impact — whether that's how many humans sought care in our emergency rooms, how many meals we prepared (1.2 million last year!) or just a specific patient story — to ground ourselves in what we do and why we do it. That impact only happens because of our people, so we speak proudly of who we are and how we are at our best when we work as a team. We are transparent about financials, but we've worked intentionally to shift focus away from dollars for dollars' sake and back toward the reason why positive operating margins matter — so we can reinvest in our people, equipment and facilities to better serve our patients now and for years to come. 

Alan Sickles, MD. CEO of Saint Michael's Medical Center (Newark, N.J.): I've reminded our staff that the first step in caring for our patients is to care for each other. The last three years left everyone tired and teetering on the edge of burnout. We need to support each other and create an environment that is warm, welcoming and forgiving in order to provide the very best care to our patients and community.

Mark Wallace. President and CEO of Texas Children's Hospital (Houston): The most powerful sentiment and leadership philosophy I've shared with my team over the last year is "think differently, lead differently!" At Texas Children's, we swiftly adapted to a new frame of thinking in the post-pandemic workplace. Our people are our greatest asset and no matter what an organization faces at any given time, a top priority must always be on not only recruiting but retaining the high-quality talent you already have. When healthcare organizations everywhere were facing unprecedented increases in employee burnout and turnover, we met the challenge head-on by creating a comprehensive program — Tomorrow, Together — that allowed us to recognize and reward our dedicated employees in new and innovative ways. Texas Children's has always been known for our kind, committed and compassionate culture and this program was just one of the many ways we embraced the spirit of "think differently, lead differently!"     

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